“Our bodies were printed as blank pages to be filled with the ink of our hearts”
― Michael Biondi
“Wear your heart on your skin in this life.”
― Sylvia Plath
The study found that people who had three or more tattoos were likely to have low self-esteem. “The findings of this study suggest that tattoos are not just fashion accessories but driven by a wide range of motivational factors that are significantly associated with self-esteem.”
Interestingly, Truman Capote agreed, “There’s something really the matter with most people who wear tattoos. There’s at least some terrible story. I know from experience that there’s always something terribly flawed about people who are tattooed, above some little something that Johnny had done in the Navy, even though that’s a bad sign…It’s terrible. Psychologically it’s crazy. Most people who are tattooed, it’s the sign of some feeling of inferiority, they’re trying to establish some macho identification for themselves.”
Reading these viewpoints, I wondered if I got my recent tattoos because my self-esteem was low. Marie Randle, from Liverpool Hope University, who carried out the study mentioned above, added that “not everyone who had a tattoo had poor self-esteem.” I reflected back to when I got my other tattoos, more than 20 years ago, and while I couldn’t pinpoint the exact reasoning I believe the motivation was likely starkly different to my recent desire to ink my skin.
Other reasons people get tattoos include attention seeking, self-expression, artistic expression, rebellion, addiction, identification with a group, sentimental reasons or even impulsiveness. In the past, tattooing was linked to psychological conditions and considered self mutilatory behaviour.
Was I seeking attention? I don’t think so. There are easier, cheaper and less painful ways to do that, right? I’m not trying to identify with a group, far from it. I am not recording any sentimental beliefs on my skin, it wasn’t an impulsive action. I thought deliberately about them and took considerable time to discern the right size, image and placement. I shopped around for the right artist as well.
I was surprised to realise that I could see a leaning to self-mutilation but, again, there are other ways to do that too so, no, that wasn’t my motive. It might have been an act of defiance, for sure. The new tattoos are visible to the world. Part of me wants to stick it to the rules, the labels and the expectations of how I should show up in the world. I want to break free of repressiveness. To challenge expectations.
Johnny Depp said, “My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story.” I guess, in some way, a story is unfolding. My earlier tattoos were images I liked that symbolise freedom, joy and inner strength. The tattoo I got last year is a simple word that speaks for itself – free. It’s a reminder that I am now free to choose anything – but mostly to be fully and unapologetically me. This year, to date, I have two more etchings. A Latin phrase that translates to “she flies with her own wings” on the inside of my right bicep and a small snake on my left foot a symbol of transformation. I thought I would get the Phoenix tattoo I have been considering for the last 14 months before ever getting a snake. So many snakes crossed my path in the last several months, whether real snakes, images of snakes, sculptures, paintings or stories of snakes. Snakes showed up in tarot readings and in oracle cards and messages from friends. There were so many occurrences that I simply couldn’t ignore that the universe was sending me a message. The message was to do with the power of snake medicine linked to transformation, life changes, healing and primal energy. Hence, I now wear a reminder that the universe has my back.
There are several other tattoos I am drawn to and will, over time, probably have them inked on my body. They are symbols that signify who I am becoming and who I have always been at heart. My tattoos are a statement and a way to express myself though more than that, they are badges of honour. They are emblems of my strength and courage, of change and a time of moving forward, of breaking free, of creating a new identity. These new tattoos have raised my confidence and are reminders to me of what I have been through and survived. They are reminders that I am strong, that I am brave, that I am a survivor and that I should be here in this world. I may well be judged by my tattoos but, you know what? I don’t actually care, because my skin art, my ink, is a celebration of life and of me and I wear it proudly.